Back of the Room
Since I first started going to open-mics it’s been easy to tell which comics are admired by their peers and the rest who are reproached or ignored. You can tell by turning to look at how many comics are standing at the back of the room near the exit. You’d think it’d be awkward to be crowding right in front of doorway, I mean what if there’s a fire? But alas there is a method to this madness.
If you’re a new comedian, open mics are the first place to perform at. They’re a space for you to get over your fears, make mistakes, and discover who you are, but it’s also test a test that you don’t even know you’re taking (Or at least I didn’t, wish someone told me). The test moderators are those sweaty, looming guys with cigarette’s in their mouths and the test is to keep them from smoking for another 5 minutes to watch your set. Succeed and they might talk to you after the show, remember your name, and or welcome you to join them outside. Fail, and they will leave thirty seconds after you start your set, forget who you are, and you’ll have to start over again next week.
Once a comedian passes this “test” typically more comics will watch his set. This amount of support varies on the comic, however it’s easy to see who has “made it” and who is “still trying” I promise there is nothing more heart breaking to see a popular comedian have a set watched by all the other comics and then have a newbie follow him. Seeing the back clear out almost instantaneous with only the host and a couple of sympathetic new newbies remaining is almost enough to make you cry or laugh depending on what kind of soul you have. This can happen on both packed and empty nights, and the more empty then the more painful the experience.
I’ve seen newer guys get told off as rude for talking in the back by an experienced comic and then the next night that experienced comic does exactly what he lectured them not to do. I’ve seen an experienced comedian rant about how all the other comics left before his set yet last week he left after his set and never watched anyone else. Look what I’m trying to say is that comedians are hypocritical sensitive bullies and that the back of the room is a strange black hole that sucks away good will, respect, and talent from the stage.
It’s been strange writing about the back of the room phenomena because as I try writing about it I find that it’s a frustrating cluster fuck with no rules. Here I thought I could write some tips or helpful observations about it and yet I can’t even understand why it’s so powerful. You don’t believe it’s powerful? Just ask the six other guys I talked to in the back last Thursday long after the show was over. I doubt any of them could explain why we thought it was a good idea to hang out in that smelly basement until 3 AM closing rather than sleeping!
There’s no standard, no structure, no real growth in the back of the room. It’s only functional purpose is that it motivates or intimidates new comics to succeed and that’s the end of it’s usefulness. If you’re lucky you’ll hear a tip about an open-mic or showcase but that accounts for 3% of the time spent talking in that circle. Not that I’m any better, sometimes its just fun to talk forever like time has stopped existing and there is nothing better to do. Other’s will say it’s a good time to gossip, swap stories, and watch comedians awkwardly be funny for no reason.
I guess in the end the best way to describe the back of the room as a guilty pleasure that some comedians indulge in more than others. It helps with morale on nights that are really shitty, and there are a lot of shitty nights. There is only one scenario I’ve seen it become absolutely cancerous.
I was on a show where a bunch of comedians did noisy back of the room talk at a show that was actually good! As it got closer to show time I was happy to see how much the room filled to about 30-40 people. However an issue was that the room had very loud acoustics so if you were talking and laughing like a fucking fool, it didn’t matter if a guy with a microphone was talking, the audience was going to hear it. As the show progressed I would see audience members get distracted at the “experienced” comics riffing and laughing, which pissed me off and it would piss off those same “experienced” guys too if the situation was reversed, but look above at hypocritical sensitive bullies. Then the same comedians went up and wasted time doing inside jokes that only the back of the room laughed at and confused the actual audience. It’s fine to do that with a shit show of two audience members but not an actual crowd of people nice enough to come out.
This story isn’t really based off of a one time event but rather a few separate incidents that all happened similarly. Seeing good shows ruined like that have helped made me realize that the back of the room is a weird hypocritical-sensitive-cancerous-blackhole. Hopefully if I ever see it ruin a good show like that again I’ll have enough balls to speak up and remind those “experienced” comics that we’re hear to entertain people not dick around.